The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 9 Squares

Russell Square and Humphry Repton

Previous - Next

Charles James Fox, seated in classical drapery, erected in 1816, looks down Bedford Place, where stood Southampton House, towards the larger statue, with elaborate pedestal and cupids, of Francis, Duke of Bedford, in Russell Square. This is one of London's largest Squares, being only about 140 feet smaller than Lincoln's Inn Fields, and included most of the garden of Southampton House, with its fine limes, and a large locust-tree, Robinia pseudo acacia. The laying out is more original in design than most of the squares, having been done by Repton in 1810. In Repton's book on Landscape Gardening he goes fully into his reasons for the design of Russell Square. "The ground," he said, "had all been brought to one level plain at too great expense to admit of its being altered." He approves of the novel plan of placing the statue at the edge instead of in the usual position in the centre of the Square. "To screen the broad gravel-walk from the street, a compact hedge is intended to be kept clipt to about six feet high; this, composed of privet and hornbeam, will become almost as impervious as a hedge of laurels, or other evergreens, which will not succeed in a London atmosphere." He says he has not "clothed the lawn" with plantation, so that children playing there could be seen from the windows, to meet "the particular wishes of some mothers." "The outline of this area is formed by a walk under two rows of lime-trees, regularly planted at equal distances, not in a perfect circle, but finishing towards the statue in two straight lines." He imagines that fanciful advocates of landscape gardening will object to this as too formal, and be "further shocked" by learning that he hoped they would be kept cut and trimmed. Within were to be "groves in one quarter of the area, the other three enriched with flowers and shrubs, each disposed in a different manner, to indulge the various tastes for regular or irregular gardens." He ends his description by saying: "A few years hence, when the present patches of shrubs shall have become thickets -when the present meagre rows of trees shall have become an umbrageous avenue-and the children now in their nurses' arms shall have become the parents or grandsires of future generations-this square may serve to record, that the Art of Landscape Gardening in the beginning of the nineteenth century was not directed by whim or caprice, but founded on a due consideration of utility as well as beauty, without a bigoted adherence to forms and lines, whether straight, or crooked, or serpentine." Repton always put forth his ideas in high-sounding language, often not so well justified as in the present case. The lime-trees have been allowed to grow taller than he desired, and yet are not fine trees from having at one period been kept trimmed; but they certainly form an attractive addition to the usual design, and looking at them, after nearly a hundred years, from the outside, where they form a background to the statue, the effect in summer is very attractive.